Into the Gray
Into the Gray
We shall provide for you in life; You shall provide for us in death.
For nearly a century the Rex Morti and his Vocchi, progenitors of necromancy, have protected the populace of Sylkine from threats both living and Forsworn. Twenty five years ago, however, tensions sparked by a splinter faith rose to a blaze, and the Althian Revolution began. They believed that necromancy was not coexistence, but control, and they were willing to die for their beliefs.
After a year and a half of incredible violence, the Althian forces still stood resolute, and the Rex Morti withdrew his forces, content to have built an impassable boundary of blood and bone. But the Althians believe themselves to be the victors, as the Sylkine population have begun to question the true price of freedom. In the war-torn aftermath, denizens of both countries will come together to disseminate the truth and forge a new future, laying the mysteries of the magic to rest.
May death find you well.
One hundred years ago, the Rex Morti discovered the secrets of necromancy. He and his Inner circle, the Vocchi, ushered in a Utopian era of peace and prosperity for the people of Sylkine. They would provide for your family in life, so long as you promised your service to their militia in death.
Twenty five years ago, the Althian Revolution began, led by insurgents Sorrel Woodrose and Cantor Briar. They now head the Althian Church, the Featherless Flock, and teach what they believe to be a more equitable approach to interacting with the departed.
The Althian Revolution ended at the Battle of the Broken Blade, and the resulting deaths created a necromantic minefield known as Dead Man's Land. Only the most skilled Cantors can navigate the land without losing themselves to the Forsworn.
Into the Gray is an unashamedly queer, necromantic noir primarily taking place in the newly founded country of Althia. Think 16th century post medieval Europe, with some holypunk twists. Players will choose one of three characters to follow through the wandering Althian countryside, the gothic capital of Ashammer, and beyond. Though all of the narratives are interwoven, no one story contains all of the truths, and each explores a different underrepresented perspective.
Fernecombe: A small Althian hamlet just south of Dead Man's Land; where two of the three stories begin. The town is staunchly anti-necromancer, bearing constant witness to Forsworn outbursts. A lore-rich introduction to the themes of the story as well as the setting itself. A lumber town, bordering a forest of slowly dying evergreens and haunted by the ghosts of the veterans in the mausoleum.
The Althian Countryside: Primarily used in travel sections as a way to introduce additional variance in the runs and highlight the difference in perspectives the characters hold, the Althian Countryside will harbor a series of potential encounters with everything ranging from a father trying to hide his child's prowess from the church, to a necromantically infused bear cub.
Ashammer: The Capital City of Althia. A town of innovation and progress, where the living and dead work in tandem to create harmonious life for all. The main setpiece for our story. Gothic Baroque.
The Featherless Flock: The Church at the heart of Ashammer, where spirits tend to the grounds as young pupils learn the ways of necromancy. The church pays the families of their students in reparation for their separation from their families / cloistered lives.
The Silver Tongue: A less-than-reputable tavern in Ashammer that will act as a home base for the investigators as they explore the city and the mysteries within. Eventually revealed as the original meeting place for the Althian secessionists.
Dead Man's Land: The border between Althia and Sylkine, ripe with the unresolved hatred of the dead and seething with otherworldly influence. Nearly impossible to cross without being torn apart. Nearly.
The Ilvar Estate: Explored only in fragmented flashbacks in Gray's path. Regal, sanctified, and sacrilegious. The true beginning of all of the stories, though it is not apparent until the end.
Sylkine: Sylkine is the largest country in the world, ruled by the Rex Morti. The country are the progenitors of Necromancy, so they say, and live in a relative “utopia.” People can sell themselves into one (or two) terms in the military in exchange for setting their family up all cushy. Carefully controlled balance of giving people purpose and comfort to prevent Forsworn. Cantors don’t really exist here, and Necromancy primarily focuses on using Spirit and Body as weapons and armor. Military expansion to all corners.
The Necromancer - Gray Ilvar
Gray Ilvar was a sheltered wisp of a child born into wealth they would never know the comforts of. Despite their status, their father's work (which they never understood) branded their family as eccentrics, and were it not for their monetary influence, very few would look their way.
From a young age, they became highly fascinated with the concept of Necromancy, but were expressly forbidden from study by their strict father. Even still, they stole books from his study when they could, and would spend hours by candlelight reading the texts father had deemed profane before sneaking them back in the dim of dawn.
At the age of 10, Gray awoke to the smell of smoke. Their memory of the next few minutes is foggy, but they emerged, somehow, unscathed, with their parents nowhere to be found. Confused and alone, Gray remained in the ashes of their home, sifting through what was left of their life, before the Rex Morti came to make it anew.
They were brought to the Sylkine capital to start a new life in the church, but for months, remained silent as the grave. When their interest in Necromancy was discovered, they were placed in classes as an effort to break them out of their shell. When their ability to see and speak with the dead (something no other student could do) came to light, they were quickly placed in advanced classes.
The more their unique abilities taught them about Necromancy, the more they began to realize the grim truth. Priests were not communicating with the dead. They were not bargaining. There wasn't even a conversation. Necromancy, as it was taught, enslaved the dead. They brought this information to the Rex Morti, who had become the father they never had, only to be exiled and excommunicated for speaking out against the Church.
Over the next two years, they wandered aimlessly away from the capital, finding work as a mercenary necromancer wherever they could, often at the request of the dead rather than the living. Their travel eventually took them to a small village at the Althian border. Here they met Aylward and Juna, and, fascinated by their unique situation, promised to escort them across Dead Man's Land. Our story begins shortly after they arrive in the hamlet of Fernecombe, across the border.
23, They/Them, 5’4”. Autistic. White hair in the present, black hair pre-house fire. Blue eyes.
Core Virtue: Very few can truly help the dead. It is my responsibility to do so.
Core Vice: I am alone among the living.
Objective in Main Story: Lay Margery to rest; Uncover the truth behind the Featherless Flock.
Objective as Character: Find their purpose outside of helping others. Discover anything about missing parents. Understand the origin of their unique powers.
To Be Learned: Family is what you make it.
Misc: Anarchist, outsider. Helps ghosts looking for nothing in return. Often seen as lucky, the little boons they come across are often a thank you from the departed.
The Devil - Bead
Hello! Bead is here. Bead was previously described as a “companion” because Bead is only visible to Gray, and you are... some strange reader? Bead does not understand.
But, you are not Gray, You do not get Bead's description... yet. Gray does not remember Bead's contract, but Bead is also the reason Gray is still alive and not burned to ash crisp. Bead did not mean to grant Gray devilsight, but Bead's power is so great that Bead cannot always contain side effects of deals. Bead looks forward to meeting you and this “party” some day!
Perhaps there is something you want in your life? Bead is happy to help!
???, Bead/Bead, ???. ???
Core Virtue: Bead is friend to all!
Core Vice: Bead is too generous! Too kind!
Objective in Main Story: Wait for Gray to die.
Objective as Character: Make more friends!
The Ghost – Aylward
Aylward was the daughter of a decorated tactician working in the Rex Morti's militia. As such, she was raised with prospects of becoming a Blackguard, a Necromancer's dedicated protector. Despite her father's insistence, she didn't want to be assigned to some stately, government drone; she wanted to do something with her life that mattered. And so, at the age of 18, she found herself on Sylkine's frontlines during the Althian Revolution, protecting a prodigal young Necromancer by the name of Wincent. This was, by all means, a ceremonial position; Wincent's prodigy was in his multi-faceted approach to Necromancy, being skilled in both Spirit and Body magics. The two had often sparred together, and she knew he needed no real protection.
Unable to partake in the glory of combat, Aylward was left as an observant, and very quickly realized that she had been mislead. The Althian forces had been painted as zealots, as religious martyrs. But their cries of an equitable faith rang true, and Aylward found themselves questioning what they knew. There was no honor, no valor in this war. Only a violent and sudden end to a differing opinion. At the next opportunity, they deserted, fleeing across the border into Althian territory.
But they did not make it unscathed, and suffered a crippling injury in the process. Days later, barely conscious, they limped into an Althian camp, collapsing to cries of “medic!” After a time, they awoke, their wounds being dressed by a young doctor by the name of Juna. She nursed Aylward's wounds over the next few days, and the two quickly fell in love. When the camp fell under siege, Aylward rose to their defense, time and time again. Eventually, their identity as the child of a general was revealed, and she became a rallying cry among the Althian forces. If they could persuade someone so close to the heart of their opposition to their side, nothing was impossible.
Word spread, and Wincent set out on a warpath to bring the traitor to justice. Within days he had located the camp, and rained hell upon them. The heat of war rose to a boil and eventually Aylward and Wincent found themselves once again face to face. His magically infused might was formidable, but Aylward had always held a few secrets close to their chest in their sparring sessions. Even still, they knew they could not hold out against his onslaught, and saw only one path to victory. She couldn't help but smile, thankful for the perspective she had gained.
With a sudden flash of steel, Wincent impaled Aylward, ready to rip the grin off of her face. But no victory could be claimed, as he looked down in a desperate rage to find her own blade embedded deep into his chest. As she lay dying, she scanned the Althian forces surging forwards, inspired by her fervor and sacrifice. Her eyes found Juna's before closing for the last time.
43, She/They. 5’9”. Shoulder length hair, ashy brown. Green eyes.
Core Virtue: Indecision means death. I will protect those I love, no matter the cost.
Core Vice: There is no greater enemy than Death, and even they could not best me.
To be Learned: There is more to life than what is grand.
Objective in Main Story: Keep Juna safe. Keep Gray safe. See the fruits of her sacrifice.
Objective as Character: Discover/regain independence, and rediscover what it means to be alive.
The Host – Juna
Juna's home life was not kind to her. From a young age, her intuitive empathy was nurtured by her parents, but when revolution began, she was met with harsh repose. She voiced concerns about the merits of the Sylkine social programs, suggesting that perhaps there were some aspects worth saving. This brought judgment and stigma upon her parents, and they quickly grew ashamed of the kindness they had once nurtured.
War was brewing, and she saw only one way to truly stand for the pacifism she believed in. She apprenticed both to a midwife and a Cantor, and began to learn how to soothe both Body and Spirit. Canting was a novel concept at the time, using songs to affect the deepest memories held within the Spirit, to calm the roiling waves of anguish within. It was being taught in secret, as a means to counteract the blighted souls utilized by the Sylkine forces and neutralize their necromancers. It was meant to be used as a secret weapon.
Juna intended to use it as a shield.
When war finally erupted, Juna quickly found herself placed on the frontlines, not only for her hand at surgery, but for her ability to quell the traumas soldiers faced. The lullabies she canted gained incredible renown, and at times she was even visited by Sorrel and Briar, the leaders of the Althian Revolution. These visits became regular as they learned not only to value her magic and medicine, but her insight as well. She did not know it at the time, but her approach to Canting would eventually become the standard among the Featherless Flock.
Eventually, a Sylkine deserter wandered into her camp, on death's door. As she tended to this stranger's wounds, she would learn to call them Aylward, and the two would quickly fall in love. When Aylward's debts came due, Juna rushed towards her falling form, desperate to save her partner. She rushed them back to her private tent, but no amount of medicine could right this wrong in the world. She began to sob, and in dulcet tones sang to Aylward, hoping to bring her a final moment of peace before the two were to be separated. She sang of their love, of their joy of all of the odds they had overcome to find one another. She promised to find Aylward in death as Aylward had found her in life.
She sang of their unlikely and impossible union.
And then they were one.
40-43, She/Her. 5’7”. Curly red hair. Hazel eyes.
Core Virtue: The world does not exist in shades of black and white.
Core Vice: There can always be compromise.
To be Learned: Compromise does not mean sacrificing your boundaries and beliefs.
Objective in Main Story: Provide Aylward with a vessel. Reunite with parents and seek counsel with Sorrel and Briar.
Objective as Character: Reclaim her body from Aylward.
The first thing the Lovers did was bury Aylward's body. The war ended shortly after Wincent's death at what would come to be known as The Battle of the Broken Blade. The Lovers found themselves in a wholly surreal and isolating experience; Aylward witnessed their own passage through Juna's eyes, and yet knew no grief, as the two had not become separated, but closer than ever.
Yet, the world only saw Juna. Aylward had disappeared. But Juna could no longer perform intricate surgeries, they had forgotten the words to the spiritual Cants. Their Althian comrades claimed they understood. But this experience was not heartache, more akin to being a stranger in familiar skin. They retained all of Aylward's knowledge of war, but Juna's body had not been sculpted for violence. Juna's voice could guide Aylward, but they were not a doctor and didn't know what it felt like to carry a tune.
They hid themselves from Sorrel and Briar, afraid of what they had become, terrified that they had discovered some forbidden magic. Their time passed delivering grievances to strangers, families of other Cantors they never knew.
Aylward trained Juna's body as best as they could. They took Juna's war stipend and moved to the countryside, disappearing from history. They settled down as the guard captain in a city near Dead Man's Land, finding peace in a quiet life. The world would never know their secret, but they could always share it with each other.
But as time passed, Aylward began to miss the life they once knew.
“We're 40, now. My father, he... if he's still alive, he won't have long. You have taught me forgiveness, Juna. I'm afraid I'm running out of time to make amends.”
And so, the pair found another Cantor from Juna's service, and shared their secret. Under careful guidance, they crossed Dead Man's Land and entered Sylkine once more, seeking Aylward's father. Upon their return, they were devastated to learn that their betrayal had led to the destruction of his reputation, and found him begging on the streets. Filled with shame and with a story too impossible to tell, they could do little other than offer him recompense for a meal.
They left quickly, then, returning to the Althian border once more, but with no way to cross it. They stayed at a local tavern, until Gray arrived. He commented on their situation, claiming to see Juna's lingering spirit, and with newfound hope, The Lovers resolved themselves to no longer linger on the past, and instead attempt to discover what the future could hold for them.
43, She/They. Appearance fluctuates somewhere between. Juna’s body, but with Aylward’s styling. The shadow of a military presence, humming things out of tune.
The Aspirant – Vanki
Vanki was a child of war. One of her parents was a Cantor, called to the battlefield. The other was a soldier, fighting for her freedom. She was two, left on the doorstep of the Featherless Flock with nothing more than a bundle of letters to be opened each year on her birthday from parents she would never know, but come to one day worship.
At least, this is what she has been told.
Twenty five letters, she was given. And each year in the cloister, as she learned of the heroes her parents were, she wanted only to be more like them. Riddled with anxiety, they became her closest friends. She developed a fascination with Cantors, and determined to become one. But, despite her arduous study and prime education, the magic never took. Only two people in the Flock knew more theory than she; Briar, and Sorrel. But when it came to the application, she was left wanting, only furthering her self doubt.
Her 25th birthday lingered over her like a shadow, looming on the horizon. She had failed as a Cantor, struggling with even the most basic of hymns. She had earned a reputation in the Flock: Not as a legend, but as a librarian's aide.
On her birthday she would be allowed to take the Canting exams once more, in an attempt to earn a place among the ranks of the exalted. As our story begins, at the eve of the day prior, Vanki holds in her hands the final letter, and swears a silent vow. This letter will not be opened. Not until she has lived up to the legacy of her parents. In her words, “Until I'm a Cantor, I cannot lay the dead to rest.”
26/27, She/Her. 5’4”, locs, black hair. Wears an oversized robe.
Core Virtue: No puzzle cannot be solved. I hold all the pieces, and merely need the time to arrange them.
Core Vice: Others can solve this puzzle faster. Others can solve harder puzzles. Others have parents who they love. Others have parents who love them. Others know what it's like to be hugged. Others know what it means to succeed. Others aren't disrespecting the legacy of the dead.
To be Learned: Do not just question what you know. Question what you don't.
Objective in Main Story: Break free from the church, reconnect with family history, overcome self doubt.
Objective as Character: Understand Gray's mysterious powers and gain mastery over field.
Major Supporting Characters
The Martyr - Sorrel Woodrose
Very few know the truth of Sorrel's origins. Some hypothesize that he's a prodigal bastard of the Rex Morti, basking in the divine irony. Others see him and they know, there is no world where Sorrel comes from such privilege. He carries himself too humble, bows his head too low in reverence of others. To more still, that bow reads as weight, and they ponder the heavy guilt he is making reparations for.
What is known is this; Sorrel is a powerful Necromancer, unrivaled in his practice of Will. Sorrel is a peaceful man, and leading a war effort took a great toll on him. Sorrel is a lonely man, and is rarely found outside of the company of Briar or other members of his Flock.
He/Him. Mid 50s, short, wavy, salt and pepper hair, permanent 5 o' clock shadow. Amber eyes. 6'
Core Virtue: Life is a blessing, and it should be cherished to the fullest.
Core Vice: I need to be loved.
Objective as Character: To expand the church, to maintain the power structures of Althia, to be needed by all. To create a world with codified individual agency for all.
The Scavenger - Cantor Briar
If Sorrel is the light of Althia, Briar is the shadow that follows close behind. Before the Althian Revolution, Briar was a Crow in service to the Vocchi. When it was discovered that he was researching demonology in secret, he was excommunicated from the church and fled to Ashammer.
By the time Sorrel arrived, Briar had become jaded, and carried with him a seemingly incurable sadness. Within a week, he found himself smiling again, and promised himself to Sorrel's service. There is little he would not do to further Sorrel's dream.
During the Althian Revolution, he acted as advisor and military counsel, providing insight on the Vocchi's strategies. Unbeknownst to the world, he also played a critical role in defeating Wincent at the Battle of the Broken Blade.
Now, when not trailing Sorrel, he wanders the halls of the Featherless Flock, lingering in shadows and observing the growth of all within from behind his vulture-skull mask. Sees great promise in Vanki.
The true villain of our story.
He/Him. Late 60s, wears a chrome mask fringed with feathers that resembles a vulture's skull. Beady eyes.
Core Virtue: There is little in this world that I do not know, nor anything I shall ever regret knowing.
Core Vice: I will stop at nothing to know everything.
Objective as Character: To exact revenge upon the Rex Morti.
The Swordsman - Wincent
One of the greatest Necromancers in life, Wincent now acts as Sorrel's personal bodyguard in death. A colossus who utilized necromancy to strengthen their bones, ply their muscles, and halt the flow of blood so regularly that even without a Soul, their Body continues to do so. The warrior who killed Aylward, and was slain in return. A strictly physical obstacle in our journey, but one that is nearly impossible to overcome.
The Victim – Margery Thorpe
A young woman who dreamed of studying in the Featherless Flock against her parents' wishes. Wanting her to be happy, however, they did everything they could to see her dream come true. Briar's previous pupil, she now wanders the halls of the Flock as an unregistered and entirely ignored ghost, unsure of why the world won't listen to what she has to say. Once the humble daughter of Gaines the Groundkeeper, now she is a ghost on the verge of becoming Forsworn.
The Don – Briford Yond
Briford Yon was Ashammer's original mob boss and a powerful influence in the early days of The Althian Revolution, acting both as a recruiter and prominent source of funding. Nobody questioned where his money came from; they knew better than to ask.
In death, he is just as powerful as he was in life, if not more.
Effectively eternal, he harbors some secret unfinished business, a flock of personal Cantors to keep him in check, and an entire family dedicated to being his hosts. His presence may not be acknowledged by the Featherless Flock, but he is still one of the driving forces of commerce and protection in Ashammer.
The mayor of Fernecombe, a veteran from the Althian War. She takes pride in her sensibility.
Gaines the Groundkeeper
An unkempt, hard working man who values the practical. Serves as the groundskeeper for the Fernecombe cemetery and mausoleum. Staunchly anti-necromancer. The first character the party encounters. Margery's father. Ashamed to have been paid by the church, works hard despite not needing to as a mark of his own character.
The tavernkeep and rumourmonger of The Silver Tongue. Knows a little something about everything. Raucous flirt, but just for fun. Ultimately aro/ace.
A dry witted student in The Featherless Flock, one of Vanki's only friends. Guards over the Flock's reliquary.
On Necromancy and the Dead
Spirit, Will, and Body. Everything in Necromancy stems from these three principles.
Body – The Physical. The ability to enact will upon the world.
Spirit – The Self. Existence without want. Many spirits exist without ever having been “alive,” such as The Spirit of the Forest or The Spirit of the North Wind.
Will – Want. Much stronger in sentient/sapient beings.
In Sylkine, Necromancy means the manipulation of these things. In Althia, all Necromancy is transaction. Something is gained, and something is lost. The dead are laid to rest and the living gain peace. The dead have unfinished business, and the living gain forgotten wealth for finishing it. The stronger one's Will in life, the stronger they are in death. Most Necromancers study all three, as generalists, but some like Wincent or Sorrel express a preference and specialize.
All Necromantic magic has a cost, however. Oftentimes, this cost is directly related to the desired effect. If you wish to raise a skeleton, you offer some blood. If you wish to speak with a spirit, you open part of your own.
That being said, speaking with spirits is no easy task. The only reliable way to do so is to act as their vessel, an incredibly volatile and temporary form of magic. Spirits in Into the Gray do not have a corporeal form, nor do they have the ability to actually speak. Oftentimes, communication with the dead is about translating impulse and emotional insight.
This is part of what makes Gray so unique; they can see and speak with the dead as easily as if they were still alive. This is also part of what makes Aylward and Juna so unusual; they have been bonded for two decades.
Not all Necromantic magic has to have a sympathetic link (Body:Body, Will:Will, etc,) however. You can use magic to transmute one into the other within yourself, at a high cost. Becoming temporarily nascent to heal a broken limb Similarly, you can, say, sever someone else's connection between Spirit and Will with a profound offering of your own Body.
The short and simple is that any of the principles can be interchanged, but the further you stray from a direct relationship, the higher the toll the magic will take.
Necromancy as a skill comes from one of two places (and often requires both;) Study, and Proximity to Death. Oftentimes, the closer one comes to meeting Death themselves, the more likely they are to come out of it with some small Necromantic insight, and often it is those who experience loss at a young age who become Necromancers.
The Hierarchy of the Church
Sitting atop the throne of the world in Sylkine is the Rex Morti. Beneath him are his closest inner circle, the Vocchi, and beneath them are Ravens, heads of countries' churches, and Crows, who lead city-states and districts. Each title is representative of both their status among their faith as well as their prowess as a Necromancer.
In Althia, the terminology has been abandoned (as is evidenced by the Featherless Flock,) but not forgotten; those who harbor anti-church and anti-necromancer perspectives often refer to Necromancers as “Murderfolk.”
The Function of the Church
While Necromancy is ultimately viewed by Sylkine as a weapon of war and Althia as a tool for progress, the religious foundation is built on more than just faith. The dead need help crossing over; this is an essential service that many set aside part of their life savings for. In rural areas, many novice Necromancers will provide what they can in exchange for a handful of eggs or a warm bed. As you approach larger population centers, the monetary toll grows.
Prayers and services take place at Sunset and Sundown, the times where the veil between night and day are thinnest. In this faith, life and death are sacred and deserving of reverence.
The Holy texts of The Church are written in Mortem, the language of the dead. Most incantations take place in the same tongue. It is both a spellbook and a book of parables, but just speaking it does not make one a Necromancer.
When the business of the dead is left unresolved for too long, they venture towards a darkness unrivaled; they become Forsworn. They lose their love, their Will, their person. They become a being of hatred and wrath, and the longer they fester, the more powerful they become. Forsworn have slaughtered families, ravaged cities, destroyed countless lives. Forsworn have been overcome in the past by brute force, raw Necromantic talent. In recent years, the Althian practice of Canting has gained popularity, and Forsworn attacks have become much less frequent as a result; in Sylkine, the opposite is true, as Forsworn attacks are becoming more and more common.
Sylkine is, in theory, led by a council of representatives. In reality, this entire council is hand-selected by the Rex Morti, and for all purposes otherwise the country is a functional monarchy.
In Althia, Sorrel heads the country from Ashammer but delegates responsibility to a council of democratically elected representatives from the countryside.
Plot Lines to Explore
- Margery, a promising young Necromancer, has disappeared from the Featherless Flock without a trace. Uncover the truth of her disappearance and bring justice to those who have wronged her before she becomes Forsworn.
- Aylward and Juna fell in love in the heat of war at the age of 18. They have spent the last two decades inseparable, and unable to speak to one another. What tensions have built and simmered underneath the surface?
- It comes to light that Gray's powers are the result of a childhood deal with a devil. What does Bead gain from their deal?
- A critical moment in the narrative will provide Aylward and Juna the opportunity to separate. How will they define themselves when their lives again become their own, and will their love last?
- Sorrel longs for peace and freedom. Briar will sacrifice anything and everything to make that happen. When you learn of the true price Briar has paid for Sorrel's vision, do you accept the cost, or do you shake the foundations of faith and country?
- Gaines the Groundskeeper refuses the party entry to the mausoleum they have been hired to lay to rest. Navigate complex sociopolitical tensions and persuade him of your purpose without upsetting Mayor Hennesworth.